On ViewBrooklyn Museum
April 8 – September 18, 2022
Guadalupe Maravilla’s Tierra Blanca Joven at the Brooklyn Museum consists of “Disease Throwers”—large sculptures that function as healing sound baths, a curation of Mayan artifacts from the museum’s collection, video performance, and a community healing room. This is contextualized with the artist’s own biography on all fronts. Curatorial wall text guides museum goers through the exhibit, allowing Maravilla to tell his life story, including his battle with cancer and interest in art as a healing tool. Collaborative retablo or “devotional” paintings (made with painter Daniel Vilchis) include stories from Maravilla’s youth. The faith of the viewer comes in, in addition to Maravilla’s own life, because even if Tierra Blanca Joven is presented in relation to the artist’s story, the work’s double function begs the question: does this art exist as a pure aesthetic extension of one person’s experience, or can it really heal? Maravilla himself sees his role as an Indigenous healer and the utility of his sculptures as functioning beyond pure aesthetics.
Maravilla began sculpting his “Disease Throwers” in 2019. These assemblages are composed of found objects that cling to and grow out of resinous structures that resemble altars or thrones, where gongs hang prominently, waiting to be struck in ritual. Disease Thrower #0 (2022) and Disease Thrower #18 (2021) transcend the representational limits of classical or modern sculpture, as their purpose is to provide the community with free sound bath rituals to ease pain and release toxins from the body. In a recent New York Times profile, Maravilla described how his own cancer diagnosis ten years ago led him to learn “about ancient ways of healing.” These sculptures, beyond being beautiful avant-garde objects, are performative works, activated by the artist for his sound baths.
Born in El Salvador in 1976, Maravilla (formerly Irvin Morazan) fled the Salvadoran Civil War as a child and entered the United States without documentation. Maravilla’s story as an immigrant and cancer survivor is the source material that the artist reinterprets and expresses in “Disease Throwers” and other media, and the role Maravilla has taken on is more akin to a spiritual leader. As far as one can tell, this is neither secular nor doctrinally religious; it is a multifaceted Indigeneity based on the knowledge and experiences of Maravilla where the story influences the work, and the work informs the story. For those who truly need healing, they might also enter this narrative.
The genius of Maravilla’s current show(s)—Luz y fuerza is also on display at the Museum of Modern Art through fall 2022—is that they exist, like a Trojan horse, within colonizing institutions that have traditionally been unable to interpret Indigenous work accurately; collecting ritual objects is the prime example of this. These exhibitions restore the idea of the sacred to Indigenous art that institutions and art historians have been stripping them of for hundreds of years by viewing it in the aesthetic context of western art. The Brooklyn Museum and MoMA are willing and able to change, but the scope of Maravilla’s work as it deals with migrant trauma and Indigenous healing almost feels out of place in their clean, white-walled galleries, ready for the white gaze. The master’s tools might never dismantle the master’s house, but Maravilla’s entrance into these spaces brings awareness to Indigenous and migrant issues.
Maravilla is a mystic and their art is magic, one only has to believe. Truth is relative in terms of the stories we tell about ourselves or how we engage with art. If one attempts to place Maravilla on a timeline of art history, they must look backwards and forwards: to ancient civilizations that history could not erase and to a new horizon of performance art that is transcendent and only requires a little faith.